Texas Cash Will Aid Committees

Posted December 5, 2008 at 6:18pm

President George W. Bush might be riding into the Lone Star State sunset. But with two Texans, Sen. John Cornyn and Rep. Pete Sessions, assuming command of the Republican Congressional campaign committees, Texas political donors large and small will likely play a key role in any GOP resurgence that occurs in 2010.

Cornyn, the new National Republican Senatorial Committee chairman operating from a chamber where a diminished GOP minority of 41 or 42 retains considerable power, could have the first call on Texas donors. A formidable fundraiser, he benefits in any competition with Sessions for Texas cash given his career in statewide office spanning nearly two decades.

But Sessions, the incoming National Republican Congressional Committee chairman encumbered by a House minority in a 40-seat hole, is a prolific fundraiser in his own right. Based in a solidly GOP northern Dallas House district that is among the most lucrative regions in America for Republican giving, Sessions is positioned to compete with Cornyn should an intrastate battle for money ensue.

“I’m sure that [Cornyn and Sessions] will work together well,” said Guy Harrison, Sessions’ chief of staff and likely his executive director at the NRCC. “Coordination is a possibility, but it’s a premature question.”

Federal regulations limiting individual donations to national party committees such as the NRCC and the NRSC — and to federal candidates — suggest that at least some sort of struggle for the hearts and wallets of Texas Republican contributors is bound to occur. The Republican National Committee also remains a potent fundraiser, although Bush’s exit from the stage could diminish its appeal somewhat in Texas.

Federal Election Commission regulations dictate that an individual can contribute no more than a total of $65,500 during one election cycle to national party committees, state and local parties and political action committees. That means wealthy donors are prohibited from writing a limitless number of checks for $28,500, the most a contributor can give to the NRCC, NRSC, or RNC in any given year.

Still, some of Texas’ big fundraising players believe significant cooperation between Cornyn and Sessions could be in the offing, even though the Senator signaled in a recent interview that he is prepared to battle with Sessions in the hunt for contributions.

John Nau, a wealthy Houston-based beer distributor and Cornyn’s national finance chairman, expects the two lawmakers to collaborate more often than not. Nau served as Cornyn’s national finance chairman during the Senator’s successful campaign for re-election this year, and is reprising that role for the Texan’s tenure as NRSC chief.

“There’s been a lot of discussion about this. The people in Texas have talked about it. I may be naive, but I don’t see competition, I see certain aspects of partnership,” Nau said. “I don’t see any competition between Mr. Sessions and Sen. Cornyn. I really don’t.”

Similar to how outgoing Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Charles Schumer (N.Y.) used his Wall Street relationships and New York’s wealth of Democratic donors to seed the DSCC over the past four years, Texas and its power centers in Dallas and Houston are expected to play a similar role for the Republicans in the 2010 election cycle — the first with Barack Obama as commander-in-chief.

With more Fortune 500 companies headquartered there than in any other state and an economy doing better than most considering the national recession, Texas appears financially fertile enough to fuel both the NRSC and NRCC, any competition for major donors between the two committees notwithstanding.

As is customary, the FEC contribution limits are set to increase for the 2010 cycle, although not so much that a major donor would be able to write one check each to the NRCC, NRSC and RNC. The aggregate limit individuals can give per election cycle to federal candidates and committees — currently $108,200 — also might ignite a competition for Texas’ wealth of GOP money, at least within the major-donor community.

“In most cases, both Cornyn and Sessions are going after the same group,” said a Texas Republican strategist based in Washington, D.C. “Cornyn will have the immediate advantage, being he’s better known statewide and the fact that Senate races are higher-profile.”

Based in San Antonio, Cornyn has managed over the years to establish close relationships with the Republican money crowd in Houston, among whose biggest players are real estate developer Bob Perry, oil services company chairman Dan Duncan, attorney John O’Neill and Nau.

Cornyn should also have the fundraising edge in his hometown of San Antonio, where the notable Republican donors include automobile dealer Red McCombs, government-affairs executive and former Rep. Tom Loeffler, and physician Jim Leininger.

But even the Washington-based Texas Republican strategist who believes Cornyn has the initial fundraising advantage argued that Sessions is better-connected in Dallas, and said he comes to the table with some other built-in advantages. Some GOP operatives expect Cornyn and Sessions to trade favors, with the Congressman introducing the Senator to his Dallas contacts, and Cornyn doing the same for Sessions in Houston and San Antonio.

The Dallas players whom Sessions is close to include T. Boone Pickens, the oil man who has lately been pushing wind energy; billionaire investor Harold Simmons; retired oil company Chief Executive Officer Louis Beecherl; and the entrepreneurial Wyly brothers, Charles and Sam.

Harrison expressed confidence that Sessions’ long list of donors in Dallas would continue to give generously in the 2010 cycle regardless of other fundraising factors.

“Congressman Sessions has two ZIP codes that raised $2 million each for Bush in 2004. We are very deep in Dallas,” he said.

The size of the Texas House delegation could also play into Sessions’ favor. While Cornyn has the statewide name recognition, there are 20 Texas Republicans in the House who will presumably be motivated to help Sessions fill the coffers at the NRCC.

One source familiar with the Texas delegation noted that over the last few election cycles, donors at the district level have become accustomed to receiving fundraising appeals from House lawmakers on behalf of the NRCC. “Donors in Texas are used to giving to the NRCC and seeing results electorally,” the source said.